Ice Lake

 

Last weekend my buddy Paul and I went on what seems to be our now annual backpacking trip in the Wallowas, this year trekking up to Ice Lake and the Matterhorn. 

Ice lake in the Wallowa-Whitman National forest is probably one of my favorite alpine lakes in the world. It may not be the most photogenic lake, but it where I did some of my first backpacking trips, and is the entrance to climbing the Matterhorn. The Matterhorn is the second tallest peak in the Wallowas at 9,826 feet, second only to Sacagawea which is adjacent and is only 19 feet taller. 

The view from the summit of the Matterhorn is truly spectacular, providing a true 360 degree view of the entire Eagle Cap Wilderness. We did not intend on climbing the Matterhorn on this trip, as we had anticipated that there would be too much snow lingering on the mountain.

But once we got up to the lake we ran into a group of ultra-runners who ran up to the top and were headed back to the trail head all in one day! So obviously we had to do it. 

 

The only somewhat scary section getting to Matterhorn was this section by the lake, in which if we slipped it would have resulted in a quick slide into the water.

The only somewhat scary section getting to Matterhorn was this section by the lake, in which if we slipped it would have resulted in a quick slide into the water.

At the end of our second day we ventured onto the lakeside and were treated to a trace amount of the Northern Lights. The Wallowas make a perfect place to go star watching as there is absolutely no light pollution and the high elevation makes it easy for many  

Backpacking to Ice lake and then heading up to the Matterhorn is one of the best trips you can take in the Wallowas. While the elevation gain can be a bit considering a heavy backpack, there are no incredibly steep portions and switchbacks keep the trail manageable. 

 

Behind the shot - The Grand Canyon

 

This is one of my favorite landscapes I've shot, not only because of the range of color that the Grand Canyon presented, but also because of what we had to do just to get here. While the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular spots in the National Park, and we shared this overlook with at least 150 other photographers, we had quite the night driving just to get there. 

We left Portland, OR around 10am on the start of what was supposed to be a climbing road trip down to Arizona, where we had a friend who had a crash pad we could borrow. As beginning climbers this sounded like all we needed for a great climbing trip (we were hopelessly unprepared) and so we set off. After driving for about an hour or two the question was asked how long it would take us to reach the Grand Canyon. Google Maps said 18 hours. Sunrise was in 19 hours. We thought why the hell not.

So driving in shifts we began the longest drive of our lives. We went through what I am still convinced was a haunted abandoned town in the middle of nowhere Utah, stopped to let a heard of deer pass us by, and arrived at the Grand Canyon with enough gas to get there but likely not enough to actually leave. 

Once we'd arrived I basically saw there being two shots I could shoot: the first being angled away from the rising sun so as to catch the color in the sky and the first light upon an interesting protruding feature within the canyon, and the second angle towards the rising sun down the other end of the canyon. I chose the latter as most of the photographers were shooting right at the sun and I always try and be #different. 

I shot this on my Canon 5D Mark II with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens and with some help from a 3 stop grad ND to compensate for the sky. 

 

First Trip to Smith Rock

 

About a week or two ago I got invited to do some climbing with a friend and his friends at Smith Rock for a couple of days. The longest outdoor route that I had climbed before this trip was only about 60 feet, so I was really excited to get on some of the best rock in the world.

Due to pesky things like work, we weren’t able to actually leave Portland until about midnight on Friday night, and ending up rolling into the climber’s bivouac around 3:30 am. After a short nap, we awoke the next day tired but ready to do what we came to do. What I loved about this was that I didn’t get to see the iconic rock formations when we got there, and so when I poked my head outside of the tent I was greeted to the spectacular view for the first time ever.

Smith Rock is incredible crowded. Not only is it one of the best places in the state for climbers, with incredible rock and also easy access, but it is also just popular to all people for similar reasons. This created some challenges in terms of shooting, as I wasn’t really able to post up on a route above my friends who would be climbing since there was always a line for almost every route. The fact that it was over 85 degrees in the sun, driving all the climbers into the limited shady spots, did not help with the crowding.

I did manage to find some routes we could climb that had a hike above option, which allowed me to get at least level with the climbers with my 135mm lens. If I had had something even larger such as a 200mm or 70-300mm that would have been perfect for the spots where I had this hike option.

On the last day we spent there our group decided to split, with two of us going for a long 100 mile bike ride, and my buddy Chu and I deciding to head up Wherever I May Roam. This is supposed to be one of Smith’s classic beginner multi-pitch route, and it did not disappoint. It was my first multi-pitch and I was a little spooked at first as I there were some slightly overhung sections, which reduced visibility between Chu and I at times. I didn’t bring my camera up on the route with us to save weight but also because I mostly wanted to focus on learning the new techniques behind multi-pitch climbing.

 

Coping with Failure

 

This morning I set out from my apartment at 3 am with high hopes for a glorious sunrise and some powder turns. I was going to skin up Tom Dick and Harry mountain, one of my favorite places to photograph Mount Hood from, and hopefully catch some morning rays with deep snow in the foreground. It's a photo I've been meaning to make for several weeks now, but haven't had the weather and my schedule correlate well enough to try until this morning. 

This morning would not be the morning that I got this photo though. I didn't even make it out of the parking area. What I had been hoping would be a partly cloudy if not windy morning had turned into almost blizzard conditions, with little visibility on the roads on the way there. They even had to shut down the road up the Timberline Lodge apparently. With these conditions coupled with the fact that I was alone and had never actually made this trek in the winter I decided it would be best to turn back. It always leaves a pretty bad taste in my mouth when hopes are so high for that "one" photo, but it doesn't always work out. 

Since I had already woken up so early, I thought I could try and at least get something out of it and so I headed back and tried to stake out Jonsrud Viewpoint hoping Hood would come out of the clouds. This too proved fruitless. I got a great view of the base and the trees at least. 

Moments like these happen too often. Getting the "shot" takes time and lots of patience. I've learned that there are some things that you can control such as your composition or charging your batteries, and others like the weather which you cannot. The best thing you can do is try and study why things didn't come together. 

Today I tried to not let the lack of any real worthwhile photos get me down. I can't control the weather. It doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying to get the photo though. I've been to Jonsrud Viewpoint 3 or 4 times in the past 2 weeks, trying to get a very specific photo that requires very specific weather conditions. And I've got plans to go there again tomorrow. Maybe it will turn out, and maybe it won't. But by failing repeatedly I can learn from what went wrong, and how I can better prepare myself.